It’s been four years since Housemarque’s last game, and they are back with third-person roguelite shooter Returnal. Find out why this is a must-play in our Returnal review!
In Returnal from Housemarque and Sony Interactive Entertainment, the story starts with you being in your spaceship as you see yourself crashing on the planet Atropos. After surviving the landing, you realize your ship is not functional anymore, but your suit is still operational, so you decide to explore the area. You’ll find the body of another ASTRA soldier, but as you check the helmet to identify the person… you realize it’s actually you1 A few moments later, you find a voice log from yourself about being stuck on this planet, that you keep coming back to the moment your ship crashes. From there, you’ll gradually see the story evolve as you pick up new logs that will granularly give you more details on what is happening on this planet.
You’ll play the game from a third-person perspective, although there are a few segments where you’ll be in first-person. You move around with the left analog stick, using the X button to jump. The Circle button is used to dash, which can be useful to avoid enemy attacks, help you reach distant places when combined with a jump, or avoid hazards in the environment. The Square button will be used for a close-counter weapon, although this is not something that’s available when you start the game. To shoot your gun, you’ll be using the usual R2 button, but things get interesting when you want to aim. To do so, you’ll hold the L2 button halfway down, where you’ll feel a little pressure preventing you from going all the way down, thanks to the adaptive triggers. If you fully press the L2 button, it will make you use your weapon’s alt-fire attack, which is more powerful but has a cooldown.
Each area you arrive in the game will have some enemies for you to defeat. Each of them has a different attack pattern, but they generally all have something in common: they shoot many bullets at you. As you kill them, you’ll gain an Adrenaline level for every three creatures killed without being hit, which will give you additional effects that stack as the level goes up to a maximum of five. Speaking of effects, you can also find Malignant items that can potentially have positive effects but also negative ones, which you’ll only be able to remove by completing a task that appears on the left side of the screen.
As for the visuals, to put it simply, the game looks stunning. The environments, the creatures, everything in the game is incredibly well made. Every time you encounter enemies, the screen will quickly fill up with an incredible amount of bullets, and it still perseveres at a smooth 60fps while you try to survive. The DualSense has also been put to good use in Returnal, as you feel things like rain or when your alt-fire is ready with some precise haptic feedback that’s as good as I got to experience in Astro’s Playroom. The sound also benefits from 3D audio, so if you have the chance to have a headset that supports it – I played with Sony’s Pulse 3D – you’ll definitely get an immersive experience.
Get the furthest you can, die, witness your ship crashing again, and give it another go. This is how cycles occur in Returnal, and even if it’s incredibly hard, it’s always a lot of fun. Of course, this is the roguelite aspect of the game, where dying will make you lose everything you had except for a specific currency and some key items, so your goal is always to try to survive the longest you can. Depending on how good you are, each run can last between a few minutes to more than an hour, so death can mean losing a lot of things. I really enjoyed how the story unfolds as you keep going back and picking up new logs, as it brings something interesting in the mix of a genre that can get repetitive at times.
As for the combat, this game has it all. It’s fun, fast-paced, with distinct enemy patterns you can learn your way through, and believe me, some will be more annoying than others. It also has that Housemarque bullet-hell signature that any fan of their games will recognize and love, as they managed to bring it into the 3D world in a great way.
Returnal is a definite must-play title. Fans of Housemarque will love the game. Fans of roguelites will too. The only thing that could prevent someone from enjoying it is the steep difficulty, but hopefully, this doesn’t keep you from enjoying this gem of a game. This is the type of release that makes the PS5 shine and is, for me, the best game that’s been released on the system so far.
This Returnal review is based on a PlayStation 5 copy provided by Sony Interactive Entertainment.